A VERY RARE public gathering of six of the most important competition cars in Mercedes pre and early post-war history was the highlight of this year’s Lime Rock Historic Festival, chaired by Murray Smith. The idea originated, as many do, at a dinner in London between Murray and Michael Bok, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic, who pledged to bring ‘722’ and Sir Stirling Moss together for the 33rd edition of the Festival, together with Fangio’s Dutch Grand Prix winning 1955 W196R Formula One car. Oh, and Jochen Mass also, as official Rennfahrer.
The famous Collier Collection from Palm Beach, Florida brought up two Mercedes Grand Prix cars, the 1914 Car #41, and the 1939 W154/39 “Silver Arrow” which was driven to second place in the Belgrade GP by Manfred Von Brauchitsch. This car was restored back in 2008-2009 by Paul Russell and the engine was rebuilt by Ian Harold and his team at Crosthwaite and Gardiner, before before debuting at the Lime Rock Festival in 2009 and then running at the Goodwood Revival in 2012.
Ian was on hand to make sure that everything went smoothly, for this, only it’s third time running since being rebuilt. Having restored several of both the Mercedes and Auto Union Engines from the 1930s, he is in a unique position to comment on the engineering of the V12, four cam, twin-stage supercharged M163 engine – ‘They are very complicated. The roller bearing crankshaft means that you don’t get any oil pressure, which is why you don’t have an oil pressure gauge, because the drivers wouldn’t want to drive it! …Mercedes engines have the blocks all handcrafted and welded, the cylinders, all the combustion chamber, and the inlet and exhaust manifolds are all welded externally.’ This engine developed 493 hp from three liters in 1939!
The car runs on a corrosive blend of Methanol, nitromethane and Acetone – mixed 85, 10, 5 – which needed to be custom blended by VP fuels and shipped to the track. A set of hot plugs is installed and both the castor based oil and the water system are pre-heated. The car is then started, roaring into life shooting the flames from the exhaust. The plugs are then changed for the cold running plugs, and the engine is covered with a blanket to keep the engine warm until the driver is installed, in this case Jochen Mass.
Having been in the 1914 Car #41 myself at racing speeds driven by 2014 SCCA champion Andrew Longe, I can confirm that it is quite the machine. While I acted as riding mechanic and occasionally pumped the oil pedal feeding the total loss system, Andrew drifted the car through Lime Rock’s ‘Lefthander’ and ‘Righthander’, commenting later that ‘the steering is very heavy and has no self-centering’. The 4483cc, triple plugged, four overhead valve, four cylinder engine develops 115bhp at 2,800rpm – impressive urge for 1914. It’s no wonder that this car set the standard of the time.
For the 231 vintage and historic race car entrants, Friday was practice and qualifying for the nine race groups, followed by a dinner party for participants accompanied by entertainment from Sir Stirling Moss and Jochen Mass, both of whom have driven ‘722’. Saturday and Monday featured 2 races each on the 1.5 mile circuit, and there was something for everyone, with the cars ranging from Richard Mitchell’s 1928 Stutz Blackhawk to seventies sports racing cars from Lola, March and Osella. For me, the best race was in the pre-war group, when U. Daniel Ghose stalled his 1933 Maserati 4C on the start line after qualifying in third place, behind a storming Peter Greenfield in his 1935 Alfa Romeo 8C and Peter Giddings in his 1932 Alfa P2B. Ghose was able to restart his engine and then work his way up through the field, leading one wag to comment the following day that ‘Kimi pulled a Ghose at Monza’. Fortunately, Ghose did not have any further mechanical trouble and finished third.
Also on display throughout the event was the chain-driven 1908 Mercedes Brooklands from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, some incredibly rare and important racing motorcycles from the Rob Ianucci collection, and an eclectic mix of unrestored road and race car gems from the Jim Taylor collection. Jim has always been fascinated by unrestored cars, and as one of the event’s Honored Collectors he was able to show some of his favorite ‘as-found’ automobiles.
With a roughly 35,000 strong crowd gathering over the course of the labor day long weekend, the event is thriving and has become the focus on the East Coast for vintage and car enthusiasts, race shops and restorers. The midway and swap meet areas hosted 86 vendors, Jochen Mass and Sir Stirling were signing books and posters for excited fans, all with the noise and excitement of the cars going around the track. As many of the participants packed up to fly to Goodwood, Jochen summed it up perfectly, ‘Great cars, great people, great event!’
The Lime Rock Historic Festival 34 will take place on 1-5 September next year, 2016 www.limerockhistorics.com